Ann Arbor Area BUSINESS MONTHLY magazine brings the reader the latest business news and information important to the businesspeople in Washtenaw County. Each month articles cover real estate, legal, Internet, employee concerns and the climate of business in the greater Ann Arbor area. There is news about company employees and feature articles on local businesses. We cover business news from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, and Ypsilanti.
The Growing Business
Appeal Of Smartphones
By Mark Ziemba
The popularity of Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry points to the growing appeal of smartphones, or mobile phones with personal organizers, computer capabilities and Internet access.
Global smartphone sales climbed 27 percent in the second quarter of 2009 compared to the same quarter last year, despite a 6 percent decline in all mobile phone sales over the same period, according to Connecticut-based Gartner, a global information technology research and consulting company. The 41 million smartphones sold in the second quarter of this year represented 14 percent of the 286.1 million mobile phones sold.
Apple's smartphone sales skyrocketed 509 percent during this period, according to Gartner, helping Apple stay in third position among smartphone device vendors, just behind Research in Motion's second place and global leader Nokia. Mobile phones have been revolutionizing communication, and now smartphones are helping revolutionizing business. "Even the smallest of businesses can be improved through the use of wireless technology," says John Walls, the vice president of public affairs for the international wireless communications industry group CTIA-The Wireless Association. "This is, in essence, a great equalizer for them."
The growing power of both smartphones and the mobile wireless infrastructure offers a tantalizing future for small business users that will allow them to interact with customers, colleagues and vendors more effectively at lower cost, helping them compete with bigger business - even around the globe.
Busy Professionals Appreciate Smartphones
Those who use smartphones say they are indispensible for people who are busy and on the move.
"My phone is like my office," says Washtenaw County Human Resources Director Diane Heidt, who frequently needs to be away from her desk and uses a BlackBerry issued by the county, which uses mobile phone service from Verizon Wireless.
Local Wireless Zone franchise Director of Stores Jason Tracey says, "It's very convenient for the small business owner, especially if you're traveling or spend any time out of the office." Based in Connecticut, Wireless Zone is an independent provider of wireless service, and the local franchise operates stores are in Ypsilanti, Saline, Scio Township and Jackson. "I'm constantly on the road," says Tracey, who uses a BlackBerry smartphone himself.
Michigan State University Assistant Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media Constantinos Coursaris says, "That's where the real value of a smartphone comes in: individuals who are on the go and need to have access to their business applications." Dr. Coursaris works as part of Michigan State University's College of Communication Arts and Sciences Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media. Coursaris formerly used a BlackBerry, but switched to an iPhone.
What Smartphones Do
In addition to standard mobile phone voice communications, smartphones offer a powerful set of new features.
Smartphones combine mobile phones with the electronic organizer capabilities made popular by personal digital assistants (PDAs). Electronic organizers help keep track of appointments on a calendar, maintain a list of contact information and even serve as a notepad.
"I find myself using a lot of the organizing features like the calendar function," says Michigan State University Assistant Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media Constantinos Coursaris.
Local Wireless Zone franchise Director of Stores Jason Tracey says, "Smartphones have an excellent calendar."
Today mobile phones allow text messaging, known as Short Message Service (SMS), but smartphones are helping text messaging evolve into Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS).
Coursaris says, "MMS is basically an advancement of the technology to enable the traditional text message to be sent along with picture and video."
Smartphones also offer wireless data capability, which allows a host of features available through connection to the Internet. Wireless carriers have been busy building better data communication networks for such smartphones, but some newer smartphones even connect via Wi-Fi standards to Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) for computers. This allows users the capability to connect to the Internet without incurring data charges from a wireless carrier.
With data connectivity, some smartphone owners have even more ways of using messaging services, including Internet-based instant messaging (IM) services such as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger.
Data connectivity is also opening the door to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, which can provide free or low-cost voice communication through a Wi-Fi connection to the Internet. Instant messaging and VoIP service Skype has software available for the iPhone, but Apple has yet to approve the availability of software for Google Voice at its Apple iPhone App Store.
Smartphone manufacturers may be inclined to support VoIP functionality, however, says Coursaris because "that differentiates their product from another manufacturer."
Such services interfere with a wireless carrier's ability to profit from voice traffic, however, which may concern carriers. What might persuade carriers to support VoIP traffic is the added revenue of more wireless customers, says Coursaris, who points out that there is revenue sharing for the mobile phone market among manufacturers, carriers and software developers.
"There are multiple interests, because everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie," says Coursaris.
Data connectivity also provides smartphones with the ability to send and receive e-mail, one of the most significant features of such phones.
"The clients have improved tremendously over time," says Coursaris, referring to software that sends and receives e-mail from the device.
A significant consideration in choosing a smartphone that will affect the ease of generating or responding to e-mails is the availability of a QWERTY-format keyboard. Most smartphones feature them, but some use actual keyboard buttons and others use a virtual keyboard on a touchscreen.
While the choice depends on user preference, Coursaris says that touchscreen keyboards are less efficient and effective for e-mailing. He says that physical keyboard users can create e-mail messages more quickly and with fewer errors than touchscreen keyboard users.
Today smartphones are almost as useful as an office computer for handling e-mail. Smartphone users can typically view and send standard e-mail attachments such as images, sound, video, PDFs and even Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, too, though editing or creation of such documents is still limited.
Of course, data connectivity also allows Internet Web browsing, and smartphone technology and mobile Web browsers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in order to better manage the task on these devices, which have smaller screens and lower processing power than desktop computers.
With such mobile Web convenience, smartphone users can also access and view video. That's great for entertainment value, but it also allows businesses to reach customers and even staff with video.
CTIA-The Wireless Association's Vice President of Public Affairs John Walls notes that one windshield repair company provides installation video wirelessly for its technicians while they are in the field.
Wireless Zone's Jason Tracey says, "The biggest power with a smartphone is having information at your fingertips."
Smartphones also power immediate social media interactivity through data connectivity.
Dr. Coursaris points to social media blog Mashable's October 15, 2009 weekly Friday Lunchtime Poll as evidence for the importance of social media on smartphones. According to the results from Mashable readers, Coursaris notes, "Four of the top 10 iPhone applications are actually Twitter clients." This highlights the popularity of the micro-blogging social media tool known as Twitter, which now boasts millions of users, as well as the strength of social media on smartphones. The top application is one for social networking site Facebook.
This may not be surprising, perhaps, given that Mashable readers are by default likely to be interested in social media. Nevertheless, the smartphone's power to send short messages in real time from almost anywhere via the Internet certainly makes smartphones an ideal tool for social media use.
It also means that social media can easily reach individuals in real time, an attractive prospect for businesses wishing to cut through the crowded marketplace to reach its customers.
"Priorities in marketing budgets are now shifting to more mobile and social media now than ever before in the U.S. because of the shrinking budgets," says Coursaris. "It's far more effective to go after fewer people with a more personalized, value-added message than a general broadcast across the population."
While mobile phones have been including digital cameras in recent years with some video recording, smartphones include better video recording capability, which also happens to be an ideal combination with social media tools.
Smartphones also harness the power of a mobile phone's Global Positioning System (GPS) functionality through software to provide mapping. For someone frequently traveling, this is an enormous convenience for finding locations of clients, meetings, conferences and lodgings.
Some smartphones and software can even allow you access your desktop computer.
Coursaris cites Jaadu, a Virtual Network Computing (VNC) client application for the iPhone that allows access to computers running Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems and a VNC server, displaying the entire computer screen and providing full keyboard and mouse control.
"A smartphone now enables a remote desktop connection anytime, anywhere," says Coursaris. He admits, however, that "there are still glitches."
Aside from the functionality of the smartphone networking software, there are comfort, processing power and wireless bandwidth limitations. Extended typing on a small keyboard is not ideal, for instance. Smartphones aren't the best devices for intensive applications, either. Also, while wireless carrier data networks are growing, the increasing number of smartphones places more demands on those networks.
This is enough of an issue that just last month Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski warned, "The biggest threat to the future of mobile in America is the looming spectrum crisis." This is despite the fact that the amount of bandwidth available for commercial use has recently tripled.
Coursaris says, "There are bandwidth limitations still as 3G networks are still evolving in the U.S., pushing through about a quarter of the data these networks pushed in Japan two years ago," referring to the current third-generation wireless voice and high-speed data networks in this country.
Coursaris says that although he can connect to his networked computer with his iPhone, it takes too long if he's working with a large file. "The throughput is at times too slow for such a business purpose."
Despite such concerns, the fact that smartphones can run mobile software applications makes them extremely useful. Although the iPhone has popularized the idea of "apps," every major smartphone operating system is connected with a marketplace for mobile software.
As a result of these marketplaces, says Coursaris, "There is continually increasing value in the smartphone."
CTIA's John Walls says, "Applications are an increasingly important piece of the wireless equation." He adds that "the application development community...is starting to generate a lot of software that can be valuable to a wide range of businesses." Of the industry, Walls feels that "it is going to grow exponentially in a very short period of time."
A Bright Future for Smartphones
While smartphones may be exciting now, the capabilities on the horizon are even more intriguing for business.
Location-based advertising has been discussed in relation to smartphones for years, but consumers aren't quite ready.
MSU Assistant Professor Coursaris says, "In the future we will see far more personal engagement of mobile users that is targeted by the subscriber's characteristics and preferences, as well as their whereabouts."
He adds, "A classic example is, you're walking down a street and when you're within say 100 feet of Starbucks, you get a coupon for 50 cents off your latte."
Based on his own study of undergraduate students, however, Coursaris says, "The general sentiment towards location-based advertisements is still, overall, negative." He says that the concept is not attractive to mobile phone users because this might incur expenses for the recipient.
A lower-cost wireless communications infrastructure may help eventually change consumer opinion, however.
Carriers are already developing faster and more robust wireless voice and data networks, which are often called "4G," but are really enhancements to 3G to prepare the way for 4G networks.
CTIA's Vice President of Public Affairs Walls says that Verizon and AT&T are working on Long Term Evolution (LTE), one approach to developing 3G networks, while Sprint is focusing on Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax). T-Mobile's plans aren't entirely clear.
"You're going to have better technology to handle more information, more data at a faster rate," says Walls.
He adds, "As more spectrum becomes available, there will be more possibilities for bandwidth-intensive applications so that video will be more prevalent."
Coursaris agrees that video will play a bigger role in the future of wireless with the help of better data networks.
"Streaming video stands to benefit the most," says Coursaris. "Only now we're getting to the level of being able to have a stable enough connection and throughput to support videoconferencing."
Coursaris suggests that another development might be radio-frequency identification (RFID)-enabled mobile recommendation systems, where RFID-tagged products provide information and suggestions to consumers through their smartphones. Customers might point their phones at products to pick up an RFID signal identifying the product, which would then provide information to the customer about the item via an interaction with a database. The information might contain recommendations about other items in inventory that may also be of interest. This system also might work through the products the customer is carrying -- RFID-tagged clothing, for instance. Coursaris says that there is already a working prototype of such a system in Japan.
"They even have working 3D holograms that display the article of clothing on you," says Coursaris.
Using smartphones to assist with health care is another interesting possibility, with applications such as mobile wellness and mobile monitoring.
With mobile wellness, CTIA's Walls says, "You can provide various personalized health care tips and information to individual patients based on their needs." Walls adds that this would also enable doctors to more easily reach people in rural locations.
"Mobile monitoring is going to be a huge field," says Walls, especially with chronic disease patient monitoring, assessment, evaluation, treatment and medication compliance.
Micro-payment is another field of smartphone activity, where a mobile phone can essentially be used as a credit or debit card.
"It's gotten to the point where an individual is far more likely to turn around and grab their phone than to grab their wallet if they leave it behind," says Coursaris.
Overall, smartphone technology is improving at a rapid pace, which will provide even more possibilities.
"We see significant advancement in a much shorter time frame than we used to see around mobile devices," says Coursaris.
Walls says, "You're going to have all the functionality of your office in your pocket." This, he says, allows your workforce to "provide better service in a more expedient way."
Choosing a Smartphone
Smartphones can present a dizzying amount of features, so it's best for consumers to understand what their needs are and how various features might meet them.
There are numerous smartphone manufacturers, bust a few are fairly popular. According to global high-tech consulting firm Canalys, Finnish manufacturer Nokia led the worldwide market as of the second quarter of 2009, followed by Canadian company Research in Motion and American producer Apple. In the North American market, however, RIM led with 52.0 percent market share, followed by Apple's 23.3 percent market share and Taiwanese manufacturer HTC's 5.6 percent share.
Manufacturers produce smartphones with different operating systems. According to Canalys, across the globe Nokia's Symbian OS led with 50.3 percent of the market in the second quarter of 2009, followed by the RIM BlackBerry OS at 20.9 percent, the Apple iPhone OS at 13.7 percent, the Microsoft Windows Mobile OS at 9.0 percent and the Google-backed Android OS at 2.8 percent.
RIM and Microsoft's operating systems are closed-source systems, meaning that the development is controlled by those companies. Apple and Palm offer closed-source systems with open-source components. Palm makes the Palm webOS for the Palm Pre. Nokia's Symbian and Google's OS are open-source, however. Open-source operating systems are attractive because they're free, helping keep the cost of the devices down.
There's much excitement around the Android operating system. Research and consulting company Gartner predicts Android will move into second position among mobile operating systems across the globe by 2012 at a 14.5 percent market share. Gartner estimates that Android will still be behind Nokia Symbian (39 percent), but ahead of the Apple iPhone (13.7 percent), Windows Mobile (12.8 percent) and RIM BlackBerry (12.5 percent).
Of course, smartphone buyers will look at mobile wireless carriers. Since some devices are only available through certain carriers, that will limit some of the choice. Some of the primary carriers are AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Carriers use various mobile wireless voice and data network systems on various bands, with different levels of strength depending on location.
Smartphone users should look at the mobile wireless voice and data network protocol, technology and bands that the particular phone supports. Some smartphones support the 2G protocol known as GSM, which has a huge infrastructure around the world. This means that such a phone will operate in many other countries, important for world travelers. Some smartphones use the 2G protocol known as CDMA, which is prevalent in the United States. Both systems are evolving into 3G systems, as well, so some phones will support the 3G protocol known as UMTS, an evolution of the GSM system, and other will support the 3G protocol known as CDMA 2000, an evolution of the CDMA system. Buyers should know specifically which protocol, technology and bands the phone supports through the carrier in the location where they will typically operate.
Consumers should see what Wi-Fi capability and security levels a smartphone supports.
Wi-Fi allows users to connect their phone with a Wireless Local Area Network through a wireless access point at work, in public or at home. This can be an inexpensive alternative to using a carrier's wireless data network. Current common standards are known as "a," "b" and "g" variations. It's important to know what standards your work and home wireless network supports to pick the appropriate device, but most smartphones with Wi-Fi capability support "b" and "g."
Security protocols include the insecure WEP, WPA and the stronger, modern standard WPA2.
Smartphone buyers should pay attention to what e-mail support a device offers through a particular carrier. POP support is important for common personal e-mail services, but IMAP may be needed for support of large networks at a business or university. In addition, some corporations run enterprise e-mail servers such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino or a Novell GroupWise.
For those who need to use messaging, does the smartphone support text messaging (SMS), Multi-Media Messaging (MMS) and Instant Messaging (IM)?
Smartphones offer GPS, but some offer Assisted GPS (A-GPS), which improves the reception of the GPS signal. Integrated with mapping and routing software, GPS can help users find locations.
Smartphones usually feature digital cameras with a certain megapixel (MP) level of sensors, but may also offer video recording capability. For the camera, the higher the MP, the higher the resolution of the image captured. Video recording capability is usually quantified in the computer screen resolution standard, such as VGA.
The screen size, resolution and type are important as well. Like televisions, smartphone screen sizes are measured diagonally in inches. Smartphones offer different levels of resolution, commonly WVGA (800 x 480), VGA (640 x 480), HVGA (320 x 480 pixels), or QVGA (320 x 240). Some smartphones offer touchscreens, allowing you to trigger input by touching the screen. There are different approaches to this, such as capacitive and resistive.
For those who need to make heavy use of e-mail, they should pay attention to the kind of keyboard the smartphone provides. Some offer a fixed or slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard, while others only provide a virtual one via the touchscreen.
The size of the battery (measured in mAh) and the talk time it allows on specific mobile wireless protocols will provide useful indications, though some smartphones are more efficient than others.
Technical component specifications such as the processor model and speed will suggest some indication of the power of the phone, while specifications for memory, storage memory and removable storage memory (usually a microSD memory card) will suggest memory processing space and available room for applications.
Business users will want to know if the device has a speakerphone, and its level of quality.
Connections are another feature. What sort of data connector is used? The miniUSB connector is common but microUSB has been established as the new mobile device data and power connection standard. Apple uses a special dock connector that can be changed into a USB or FireWire connection. Is wireless Bluetooth supported? Bluetooth allows you to use a wireless headset or earphones. Is there a standard 3.5 mm headset jack or an adapter for one? This is important for anyone who wants to plug a standard headset or earphones into their smartphone.
Each mobile operating system has its own application marketplace. Nokia Symbian has the Nokia Ovi Store, RIM Blackberry has the BlackBerry App World, Apple iPhone has the Apple iPhone App Store, Windows Mobile has the Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Android has the Android Market, and Palm webOS has the Palm webOS Applications store. Consumers should check out whether or not the application variety and quality match their needs, which will help them understand what operating system might be useful to them.
Another tricky matter is whether or not the smartphone will sync data with the desktop computer platform they use. Many support sync with Windows, but only some support the Mac OS, and each has a varied level of ability to sync with those systems. This is important if the buyer wants to be able to exchange calendar data with the organizer on their computer, for instance.
Finally there are price considerations: the price of the device, the monthly voice plan price, the monthly data plan price and the monthly messaging price. Note that many carriers require the mandatory purchase of a data plan with smartphones. Carriers offer different packages, but consumers will generally be spending around $150 per month for unlimited voice, data and messaging, with other lower-cost options.
TEN HOT SMARTPHONES FOR BUSINESS
All of the phones below offer Wi-Fi connectivity and many have physical keyboards.
Apple iPhone 3 GS (AT&T) runs Apple iPhone OS 3.0
T-Mobile myTouch 3G, a.k.a. HTC Magic (T-Mobile) runs Android OS 1.5
AT&T Tilt 2, a.k.a. HTC Touch Pro2 (AT&T) runs Microsoft Windows Mobile OS 6.5 Pro
HTC Touch Pro2 (Verizon) runs Microsoft Windows Mobile OS 6.1 Pro
Motorola CLIQ (T-Mobile) runs Android OS 1.5
Nokia E71x (AT&T) runs Nokia Symbian OS 9.2
Palm Pre (Sprint) runs Palm webOS 1.1
RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 (AT&T) runs RIM BlackBerry OS 5.0
RIM BlackBerry Storm2 9550 (Verizon) runs RIM BlackBerry OS 5.0
Samsung Moment (Sprint) runs Android OS 1.5